CORONAVIRUS

'Everybody back to school' should be goal, Gov. Kim Reynolds says

Cedar Rapids Community School District buses at the Education Leadership Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug
Cedar Rapids Community School District buses at the Education Leadership Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday pledged to work with schools to ensure districts are prepared to safely open schools this fall amid the new coronavirus pandemic, and said “the goal should be to get everybody back to school.”

During a news conference in Webster City, Reynolds was asked whether she is concerned that districts may have difficulty finding substitute teachers if too many full-time teachers contract the new coronavirus.

Reynolds said the state previously faced similar concerns among health care, day care and child care workforces.

“A big chunk of Iowa’s workforce has stayed up and running throughout the pandemic,” Reynolds said. “But we do know that that is an issue, and we’re looking at that right now and seeing what we can do.”

• IN CEDAR RAPIDS: Schools will require face masks or shields if students return to class

Iowa’s coronavirus cases have been steadily climbing as more of the economy reopened.

As required by the state education department, Iowa districts have been designing contingency plans for the coming school year. Districts have been instructed to design plans for normal operations, online-only operations, and a hybrid.

Each district will make its own decision as to how to operate during the coming school year, which can start as early as Aug. 24.

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“As school districts are being innovative, I believe that school districts and teachers know without hesitation that our kids need to be in the classroom,” Reynolds said. “We are doing them a disservice by not opening these schools back up and getting them to school. But we have to be flexible, we have to think outside of the box, and we have to look at different alternatives.”

Most districts have not yet determined which operation plan they will employ for the coming school year. One notable exception is the Des Moines district, the largest in the state, which plans to offer multiple models from which parents can choose: an online-only schedule, or a hybrid schedule with some days spent on campus and others learning online.

“Giving parents the option, with kids that have underlying conditions, or someone in a household that does, to go 100 percent online, that’s a parent’s choice, and we most certainly should offer that,” Reynolds said. “But I think the goal should be to get everybody back to school.”

Reynolds said the state will work with districts to ensure educational staff has protective equipment, and noted data that suggests children appear less likely to contract and spread the virus. She also noted some educational staff could be at risk because the virus is more deadly to older individuals and those with underlying health conditions.

“We need to take that into account when we’re putting the (school) infrastructure in place,” Reynolds said.

The leader of the state’s largest public teacher union said Tuesday that for educators, the issue is not whether to get students back to school, but how to do so safely.

“There is not an educator in Iowa who is not concerned about their students and who does not want to see them back at school. That’s not the issue,” Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said in a statement. “The issue is that students put their trust in us to ensure they are safe and well cared for when they are in our schools. We will not let them down. We will not knowingly place them in harm’s way by asking them to come into an environment that is not safe.”

Beranek said the union is asking the state education and public health departments for “basic health and safety guidelines, including mandatory face coverings for staff and students, social distancing, smaller class sizes, assurances that screening procedures and protocols will be in place to monitor and isolate, and proper daily disinfection guidelines.”

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.